By Brent Gray
Nurseries and garden centers are chocked full of nice selections of ornamental shrubs right now. How about selecting a shrub for the landscape, not just because it is attractive, but because it has edible fruit as well? Two for the price of one! Looks good and you can eat it too. Figs, pomegranates (Punica granatum), pineapple guava (Acca sellowiani) are a few that come to mind. But my favorite shrub that has ornamental attributes and has great fruit is the blueberry. It has attractive rose-tinged new growth and creamy-white or pink colored booms in the spring, delicious deep blue fruit and glossy green foliage in the summer followed by brilliant red foliage in the fall. A plant for all seasons, as it is even attractive in the winter with its deep red or burgundy colored young stems.
Rabbiteye blueberries do great in all parts of Mississippi. They require an acid soil like azaleas and rhododendrons. Plant them in shrub borders, as hedge plants, as foundation plants or anywhere you can get to them easily for picking the delicious fruits. Purchase at least two different cultivars for cross pollination and fruit set.
Keep out of wet gardens. Most of Mississippi is too wet for gardeners to be working. If your footprints are deeper than an inch or they grow larger with each step stay out of the garden. Walking on saturated soil destroys soil structure and makes the soil less permeable to water. Try to find the driest path to that broccoli head. This is a good time to think about building raised beds if you haven’t been able to work in the garden for several weeks.
Cantaloupe growing in Mississippi is a challenge. This is a plant native to arid areas that we are trying to grow in a rainy climate. Plant in the best drained area of the garden where the wind can keep the leaves dry. There are varieties like Lilliput, Minnesota Midget, Rocky Ford (Eden’s Gem) and other varieties that make melons less than three pounds. There are other varieties like Avatar that make melons up to ten pounds. There are old favorites like Ambrosia that are seldom found for sale due to shipping problems. Cantaloupe can be direct seeded in the vegetable garden when soil temperatures are sixty degrees. Allow twenty square feet per plant for normal plants or ten square feet for compact vined varieties like Minnesota Midget.
Green beans should also be planted when the soil temperatures reach sixty degrees Over fertilization is a problem for both bush and pole beans, so don’t plant beans in soil fertilized for tomatoes, peppers, or corn. To much fertilizer makes very large, lush plants that sometimes do not flower or set pods.
Salsa lovers can grow all the ingredients in the garden this spring. Tomatoes and peppers and onions are common garden plants, but you can also grow cilantro. Plant seed at one ounce per one hundred row feet as soon as the soil is dry enough and fertilize and water well.
Mississippi is at its most flowerful now. Blooming dogwood, crimson clover, wisteria, ranunculus (butter cup), assorted other wild flowers and some fading red buds make traveling a visit to a garden.